Middletown, Rhode Island –According to Marty Sinnott, President & CEO of social service agency Child & Family, the proposed 12.5% reduction in the RI Department of Children Youth and Families (DCYF) reimbursement rates for the children living in Child & Family-run residential housing would cripple his agency’s ability to continue to provide the highest quality, safe care. Headquartered in Middletown, Child & Family is one of several Rhode Island non-profits under contract to provide assessment and access to needed services for children who have been removed from their families due to trauma and for whom residential housing is deemed the most appropriate next step.
The agency, established in 1866, operates five homes for young people, all on Aquidneck Island, and serves upwards of forty children at a given time, ranging in age from 10 to 17 years. Sinnott estimates that a 12.5% cut in the per-child reimbursement rate would result in a funding cut of $400,000 annually for his agency, alone. The current state contract and associate reimbursement rates for providers of residential housing were set less than one year ago and were based on current operating costs as well as state mandates for maintaining best practices, such as the ratio of children to adults staff, designed to ensure quality care and safety for these children at all times.
While Child & Family shares the vision of Trista Piccola, Director of RI DCYF for the eventual elimination of residential houses (referred to as “group homes” in earlier times), Sinnott believes a continued, but gradual reduction in their number is called for instead of a swift phase out. Child & Family has gradually reduced the number of residential homes it operates in half, over the last four years. Specialists within Child & Family and other agencies predict such an across the board cut in funding for residential care would result in ill-advised home closures, lowering of the quality of care that agencies are able to provide, the possibly of longer stays for these children and breakdowns in the synergies among other Child & Family services that dovetail with residential housing, designed to support these children and their parents with the goal of family reunification. Child & Family’s Residential housing does not exist in a vacuum, but is part of a “continuum of care” provided to families in crisis, based on industry best practices. Examples of program areas on the continuum of care are programs designed to preserve families, such as family therapy, and foster care — often a stepping stone to reunification of a child to their parents or to adoption, when not feasible. If the reimbursement rate cuts are instituted, Sinnott and his colleagues envision longer stays in residential care, more Rhode Island children being sent out of state due to lack of capacity in RI residential homes, and even children becoming at least temporarily homeless in emergency situations, when a child is removed from their homes with little notice.